Cost per hour - Printing with the Mini?

Hello Lulzbot Community!

I have a Lulzbot Mini on the way. I have the intentions of trying to make a bit of money with this printer. It got me thinking though, what would the cost of printing be with the Lulzbot Mini. I am mostly concerned with the cost of running the printer per hour based on the life expectancy of the Lulzbot Mini if that is possible?

That was my biggest concern, what is the life expectancy of the printer. I could then take my purchase price, as an example $1500 divided by the life expectency hours of say 1750 and it would be about $1.16 per hour of printing. Of course, on top of all other costs, filament, electricity, supplies and so on.

Also, my next concern is failure of other parts along the way, before the life expectancy is up. This is a tricky subject though but id be willing to hear about peoples length of service on items such as bearings, rods, belts etc.

So if anyone can help out or pass along suggestions that would be great!

A 3d printer uses a fair amount of electricity. You should expect your power bill to go up about $30 per month if you are printing with it constantly (based off pacific northwest rates) Fillament is going to vary depending on how much it costs and what you are printing. Usually you will have a pretty good idea of how much whatever you are printing will weigh after a while so you can cost that out. Generally it’s going to be around $18 per pound

A filament 3d printer has a few wear parts, but there really isn’t anything in it that’s going to catastrophically fail and render the printer unusable forever. Usually you swap in a part and you are back up and running. There are still many first generation 3d printers running in the world today. Worst case failure scenario is going to be the control board, which will run you around $130 for a Taz board, probably less for a Mini. Those rarely fail, and usually only after you do something stupid to it, like accidentally pull out the fuse contacts while replacing a fuse.

Your likely wear failure parts over the life of the printer will be the extruder gears (especially the small one), the extruder bearings ($5.00 for 10 of them, 3 required) possibly the rod bearings ($5 each, 11 of them possible for replacement, they don’t wear out often) and maybe an extruder nozzle or two ($10-ish?). Electronic components that can fail include the thermistor and heater core for the hotend ($4.00-ish) and fuses. Other electronic faliures usually only occur due to user error or extreme printer age. For example, if you run your nozzle through your heated bed and shatter it, you may need a new heated bed.

One of your biggest costs initially will be failed production parts. Even a well dialed in printer will have an occasional part fail due to a layer split or a tiny fragile piece breaking off before the connecting plastic can tie it to structure.

This has been such a tough topic for me. I thought well what about a buck per print hour. But I just dont have any backup info to prove that to be a good cost… With this pricing I am expecting to get ~2000 hours out of the printer (factoring in cost/shipping tax etc) Of course during this time small items will wear and break…

Does anyone else have feedback that could assist me in this decision?

Here’s some info on power draw. I’m currently printing in ABS (240 C hotend, 110 C bed) using a 2009 iMac to feed data with the screen dimmed to lowest setting but not off. According to my UPS, this system is drawing just over 200 watts. My power is pretty cheap, about a dime per Kwhr, so the 4.25 hour print job will cost me 8.5 cents in electricity, use 72g of filament (95% fill rate so this is somewhat high) at about 2.5c/g – about $1.80, or $1.885 for juice and plastic. That’s $0.449/hr. I don’t want to stop the job to figure out what the computer draws on its own, but certainly a beaglebone or raspPi would decrease the power needs, but with such cheap power, it might take a long time to make that up.

Based on just material and electricity, $1/hr would be an amazing bargain. But then you need to consider the printer cost. At $1350, if you ran it 40hr/wk at $1/hr, it would take almost 34 weeks to recoup that cost excluding electricity and filament. Add in the filament and electricity used over 1350 hrs at 44.9c/hr, you get $606.15. The next 650 hours will cost you $291.85 in elec/fil. If your assumption of 2000 hours is correct, and you don’t spend another penny on the printer for maintenance items, that’s 1350+606.15+291.85=$2248. You’d spend almost a year losing $250. You’d have to charge $1.124/hr to break even. Notably, these figures ignore sales tax on the stuff you buy.

I only have experience with one makerspace, but I found the costs at the one near me to be so high that it made it ridiculously economical to buy my own printer. They charge a memebership fee of $50/mo (or a 3 day pass for $20), and then $0.25/g for filament. The $1.80 in plastic I’m printing right now would cost $18.00, and you have to pay for failed prints, brim, and support material too. The event the pushed me into buying my own printer was spending 13 hours on Saturday at the space – twice a printer glitch ruined my print. I spent $20 in plastic plus $50 for the membership and got nothing at all. Yes, I could have gone back more that month, so it isn’t exactly fair to say it was $70 for nothing but garbage, but between the conflicts with my schedule, their hours, and printer availability, I wouldn’t have gotten much more value for my membership and I would have paid through the nose for filament. At 25c/g, a spool of filament is $250.

Anyway, let’s say that I can drop everything and devote 10hrs/wk to being at the makerspace(*) (**), that’s 43 hrs/month, or $1.16/hr in membership fees. Using this print job printing 17g/hr, at 25c gm, that’s $4.25/hr in material costs, total is $5.41/hr.

Using 2000 hours and a perfectly running Mini again, and my $5.41/hr cost, they gross $10,800 on users like me, spend $898 in electricity/filament, and $1350 on printer (actually there’s sales tax too, but let’s forget about that for now): That’s a net of $8552. To be fair, there’s also all the costs in paying for a building, staff, taxes, etc. We’ll leave that out.

So, at $1/hr you are losing money, $1.124 breaking even, and at $5.41/hr, you’re basically telling your customers to get their own printer. Somewhere inside that range, you might find a figure that makes sense, providing this is either a garage based business which doesn’t require any additional layout for building costs, or you do a big volume business and have a couple dozen printers chugging away 24/7.

  • This assumes no scheduling conflicts with the printer. The lower this number, the higher my per hour membership costs.
    ** I love that with a printer at home, I can start a print and go mow the lawn. I can’t do that if trapped at the makerspace.

Don’t forget to include cost for your time as an expense: not necessarily a living wage, but at least something to offset the time you spend (opportunity cost).

Remember, you are providing a service, not just allowing someone to use your equipment, supplies and utilities.

That is a good point Chazz! I wondered about charging for my time. Say I produce a model that took 3 hours to design. I charge 20$ so 60$ in design time for example. If this is an item I have designed for myself to sell X quantity of. How would I add my design time to the price of the product. Would I divide my design cost into how many products I intend to sell? I wondered how I would effectively re coupe my design time.

Once you determine what you want to get for your design time per hour (rates would probably be different for design vs. machine operation), you do need to spread the total design cost (including trial prints with your operator cost, material, utility costs and wear & tear on the printer) over the number of units you anticipate that you can sell. If you sell less, you lose money; if you sell more, you have excess profit.

Once you become big enough, design costs become part of overhead which is applied to all prints that you sell or make to order. Then you can afford to hire an accountant, incorporate and get grey hair!


I have picked up a power meter and I have had it on my Lulzbot Mini now for just over 8 days worth of print time. I will post my findings below in hope’s that it can help others with the same question I originally had.

Current recorded time on the meter = 8 days, 13 hours and 29 minutes [205hrs, 29 min]
Current kWh on the meter = 14.22
Total print time in minutes = 12,329

kWh used per hour = 0.07

*This is based on running a heated bed at 60° and a hot end at 190-193° the entire time.

I am going to look at other settings of the power meter to see what else I can come up with including laptop consumption.